Manon Lescaut1 is, on one level, a simple love story. The hero, the Chavlier Des Grieux falls in love and over the course of the novel wins the girl’s heart. Unfortunately for him, this is a tragic love story, and so he loses his love. This paper will argue that the relationship between the two is more of a fabrication than either realises.
Both Manon and Des Grieux profess their love for each other. Des Grieux abandons his family for Manon, not just once, but repeatedly. Even after being betrayed by Manon he still goes back to her again and again. Manon proclaims that although she may not be physically faithful she is utterly in love with Des Grieux. It is hard to evaluate Manon’s true feelings. Her every action and word is reported to the reader through Des Grieux. He is the filter through which we experience her. So we can never know her the same way we know him. His story is at the heart of the novel. A first person narrator tells the story from their point of view, with a slant and a bias all of their own. In Manon Lescaut we have two “I” narrators, doubling the distance between the reader and the story2 .
The “Man of Quality” may distance the reader to some degree, but he is just the framing device, it is the Chevalier who details the story. His is story that the reader must evaluate.
This paper argues that Des Grieux’s tale is a one-sided story. Who, afterall, can remain objective about their own life and experiences? So we can accept that Des Grieux will paint himself in the best possible light. Everything that he reveals is coloured by his desire to paint himself in the best possible light. So the reader is forced to question Des Grieux, to wonder how much of his story to believe3.
Again and again Des Grieux tells his history to characters to elicit their help, he is always careful to reveal just enough to earn their sympathy. But he is always using them to his own advantage. His best friend from childhood, the father superior, his own family; all are used and their trust abused. With this sort of form surely the reader is forced to question his relationship with Manon. How much of what he reveals to the “Man of Quality” is the truth. How much of the relationship between the two is a fabrication. Des Grieux believes himself in love with Manon, yet describes her personality so little that he never really seems to know or understand her. How can he love her if he doesn’t really know her? This paper would argue that he loves the idea of her, he has created an idealised Manon and it is this he loves. The relationship is not really between Des Grieux and Manon, instead it is between Des Grieux and his fabrication of Manon.
- Works Cited
- Booth, Wayne, ‘Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classification’, in Essentials of the theory of Fiction, ed. by Hoffman, Michael J. and Patrick D. Murphy, 2nd ed. (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996) http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Colleges/College%20of%20Humanities%20and%20Social%20Sciences/EMS/Readings/139.105/Additional/Distance%20and%20Point-of-View%20-%20Wayne%20Booth.pdf [accessed 11 June 2013]
- Brady, Patrick, ‘Deceit and Self-Deceit in “Manon Lescaut” and “La Vie de Marianne”: Extrinsic, Rhetorical, and Immanent Perspectives on First-Person Narration’, The Modern Language Review, 72 (1977), 46 doi:10.2307/3726294
- Prevost, Abbe, Manon Lescaut (Dedalus Ltd, 2001)
- Thomas, Ruth P., ‘The Modern Hero of “Manon Lescaut”: Des Grieux as a Prototype of Adolphe’, Modern Language Studies, 5 (1975), 85–93
Weinstein, Arnold, ‘The Fiction of Relationship’, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, 15 (1981), 5–22 doi:10.2307/1345333
Abbe Prevost, Manon Lescaut (Dedalus Ltd, 2001). ↩
Booth, Wayne, ‘Distance and Point-of-View: An Essay in Classification’, in Essentials of the theory of Fiction, ed. by Hoffman, Michael J. and Patrick D. Murphy, 2nd ed. (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996), p. 176 ↩
<patrick Brady, ‘Deceit and Self-Deceit in “Manon Lescaut” and “La Vie de Marianne”: Extrinsic, Rhetorical, and Immanent Perspectives on First-Person Narration’, The Modern Language Review, 72 (1977), 46 (p. 9) . ↩